Just one day after the Syria missile strike, President Trump went before Congress to make the case that he was using his lawful presidential war powers as the Commander in Chief when he ordered the strikes. He argued that the strike and his ability to deploy it as quickly as he did was necessary to secure “vital national security interests.”
This is not the same claim that administration officials provided in the days preceding the strike. Trump’s justification for the attack, and for the ability to repeat it are going to be put to the test on Capitol Hill. Senators are preparing questions and arguments to challenge it, and have been doing so since before the missiles were launched.
Presidential war powers have been granted rather liberally for many years. The fact is that, according to foundational law, a President is not necessarily also Commander in Chief. The powers of the unquestioned commander of all of the nation’s military powers are something that a president must be given by other branches of government. He does not have it at the moment of inauguration.
This is something we have all but totally forgotten. It was especially apparent during the Obama administration, that the president is truly the chief commander of the military. There was not a single day of the Obama administration during which we were not at war, and during his second term, there was no (official) military action that he had not authorized.
During Obama’s time, a person couldn’t question the president’s authority to kill en masse without being called a racist. But now, of course, it’s just fine. In fact, the push to review the war powers of the president is going forward with hardly a peep on the subject in the news.
Their timing is suspicious, or at least strange. Why now? Why, when we have a president who is mutually despised by establishment operatives in both the Democrat and Republican parties, do we question the sweeping war powers of the President? Nobody did so during the eight years of liberal bombings by the Obama administration.
We’re living in a time when it is clearer than ever before that the motivations of the people in power are not to be trusted, that their words and their intentions are a house divided. Short of this, we would be forced to assume that the way Trump is being treated by the media and by other politicians is due to racism- but that would be ridiculous.
In 2001, President George W. Bush was given the powers of Commander in Chief. Obama used these powers as unreservedly as someone with OCD uses soap. Now, we have a president who has used these powers rather reservedly and the Democrats and Republicans are questioning his war powers.
Some people would question the use of the word “reservedly.” But last year, when Trump was pushed to attack Syria, he squeezed off just one token missile strike. Many of his supporters didn’t like it. What about America First, we asked. In another instance, he used a MOAB to decimate an underground ISIS base. In and around these instances, he has had U.S. forces working with Russian forces to eviscerate ISIS.
Hawks on both sides of the aisle are pushing for war at the same time they are questioning the 2001 authorization of the President to act as Commander of all the armed forces. Their reasoning is that the authority given to the president in 2001 was to attack international terrorist organizations and that Assad’s government in Syria is not an international terrorist organization.
In response, Trump wrote to Congress saying, “I acted pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations and as commander in chief and chief executive and in the vital national security and foreign policy interests of the United States to promote the stability of the region, to deter the use and proliferation of chemical weapons, and to avert a worsening of the region’s current humanitarian catastrophe.”
Senator Bernard Sanders said, “It is Congress, not the president, which has the constitutional responsibility for making war.”
Senator Joni Ernst told NBC, “The airstrikes, I’m comfortable at this point with that. But as many of my colleagues have also stated we need a new AUMF. We need to address this situation. And the president does need to come to Congress, and we need to have those discussions.”
Of course, the question remains, if the President loses the ability to launch airstrikes on a whim or to bomb a compound, then how do those in Congress expect him to keep us safe? The President cannot be expected to discuss every military effort with Congress before he does it. That will inevitably lead to delays as well as intelligence leaks.
Perhaps this is what Congress wanted all along though—to take away power from the President and give it to themselves.